Monthly Archives: May 2010


The Red Queen

It’s the weekend on Cat Ba island, not to mention the Vietnamese summer, which means there’s a vibe on the beach I can best characterize as Spring Break meets Butlins meets the coach tour from hell. I am watching a stream of cheerleaders doing their schtick to Avril Lavigne on our tranquil beach as hogs […]


Easy Riders

Zac, dad and bike at the end of the road, Cat Ba island, Halong Bay, Vietnam

We’ve been exploring Cat Ba island, which splatters like a Rorschach blot off the northern coast of Vietnam, trailing 300-odd islets in its wake. It’s an implausible landscape to Western eyes: classic limestone karst territory, where tectonic pressures coupled with groundwater erosion carve surrealist sculptures out of the land, and the monsoon climate clothes them […]


Summer in Hanoi

Trees and reflecting pool in the Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi turns one thousand years old this year, and the city’s just on the cusp of summer. The point where the heat begins to turn from velvety to steamy, the rainstorms open up, the Red River starts to rise and turn burnt orange with silt, and the fields which still surround this turbo-charged city turn […]


Backpacks and Zacpacks

Z with his new backpack on the pier of Cat Ba island, Vietnam

One of the reasons for the longish silence I’ve been keeping is that Z’s dad joined us in Vietnam this last weekend. The boy, it would be fair to say, is overjoyed. They’ve enjoyed quality time in arcades… pavement eateries… Hanoi’s really rather A-list waterpark… Vietnam’s first university, the Temple of Literature… And are currently […]


Cab Journey from Hell #1

I really thought, by now, after over four months in Asia and experience with virtually every taxi scam permutation known to man, my naïve London belief that anyone in a metered taxi with a light-up sign will know where they are going, own a map, and not take the piss too badly would have disappeared. […]


The Reunification Express

We flew from Manila into Saigon last week, the day after Ho Chi Minh’s birthday, and rode the Reunification Express 1600km or so upcountry to Hanoi to pick up our journey through mainland South-East Asia from the north. Vietnam is one of Z’s favourite countries. And not just for the pho (we had our first […]


Unschooling. Or Learning as You Go.

On a giant tree trunk in the ruins of Ta Prohm, Cambodia.

It’s a truism that one learns by travelling, and a cliche that travel broadens the mind. From the days when English noblemen embarked on that aristocratic GAP year, the Grand Tour of Europe, to today’s school trips, summer camps, foreign exchanges and volunteer placements, travel has been key to education. So, when we went to […]


Farewell to Manila


There is such a thing, when playing hide and seek, as being too clever for one’s own good. In which category I would have to place depositing oneself in the deep end of a swimming pool by night, breathing through a snorkel, commando style. Yep. My son has definitely watched Dr. No one too many […]


The Museum of Doctor Rizal


Manila is not a spiritual city. It’s one of those big, dirty, urban sprawls, expanding organically, growing without control, the beating heart of an archipelago, maybe, but a cancered one at that. 12 million? 15 million? Honestly, who’s counting? Manila long ago outgrew its natural ties to earth: the river and the Bay. Before its […]


The Inflatable Waterpark

Ek biki inflatable waterpark, Santa Rosa, Philippines

This technicolour dream palace is indisputably special. Possibly a little “special needs” too. What is it? You may well ask. For this, my friend, is an inflatable waterpark. Occupying 5000 square metres of apple-green Astroturf in the middle of nowheresville, Luzon, EK Biki comes complete with dangling sharks, inflatable dragon slides, slightly forlorn clownfish and, […]